Vanessa Hua is author of Deceit and Other Possibilities, winner of the Willow Books Literature Grand Prize. She is a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. For nearly two decades, she has been writing about Asia and the diaspora. She received a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award, the San Francisco Foundation’s James D. Phelan Award for Fiction, and a Steinbeck Fellowship in Creative Writing at San Jose State University. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times, Washington Post, Zyzzyva, Guernica, and elsewhere. She lives in the Bay Area with her husband and twin boys. Her novels are forthcoming.
When people ask what do you do, you tell them…?
I’m a writer and journalist, with a short story collection (Willow Books) and two forthcoming novels (Ballantine). I also write a weekly column for the San Francisco Chronicle, as well as work as a freelance writer, editor, and teacher.
What’s your biggest struggle—work or otherwise?
Balance. I struggle to set limits on work, which creeps into nights and weekends and other hours I set aside to spend with my family. At times, I don’t feel as present as I could be, because I’m thinking about something work-related. Not long ago, after I told one of my sons I had one more email to send, he unplugged the computer in protest.
If someone said I want to do what you do, what advice would you have for them?
Read widely and deeply across genres, in fiction, nonfiction and poetry. Set daily or weekly goals for yourself, whether it’s writing with a timer, or meeting a page or word count.
Submit and apply to literary magazines, to fellowships and other opportunities. You may only have a slim chance, but if you don’t apply, you’ll have none at all.
Take part in and foster literary community. Enroll in writing classes and writing conferences, subscribe to literary magazines and buy books, form a critique group, go to and help organize readings. Promote the work of friends and colleagues on social media and by word-of-mouth. Together, you can commiserate over your struggles and celebrate your victories—all of which helps in the long years of refining your craft, dealing with rejection, and finding your story.
Be kind to yourself those days you despair. Go for a run or a swim, anything that can help you clear your head and settle your emotions—and then get back to writing.
Who did you admire when you were 10 years old? What did you want to be?
I’ve been writing stories since elementary school. I admired Jo March of Little Women, Laura Ingalls of Little House on the Prairie, and Anne Shirley of Green Gables—all feisty female characters who wrote their own fates.
What would you like to see happen in your lifetime?
Commercial moon travel. Not the kind where you need three-quarters of a million dollars (or more) to buy a ticket, but so established, so commonplace that the flights happen so regularly that you can get a good price during a fare war. I want to see the earth from above, gaze deep into the universe, and bound over craters.
What are some of your favorite smells?
Sun-baked pine needles. The sweaty heads of my twins. The salty tang of the beach. The smoky, toasted rice scent of genmaicha tea.
Do you consider yourself successful? Why?
I consider myself fortunate. I write about the characters, ideas, circumstances, and places that compel me, and have supportive, encouraging friends and family who believed in me even in those moments I doubted myself. I still have days like that—we all do.
However, success is relative—the more you achieve, the more you want. Too often, you can get hung up on external validation. I believe in persistence and hard work, but also understand how much luck, timing, and other forces outside of your control factor into publishing.